By David Pendered
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is predicting in a draft report that climate change will eliminate habitat in Georgia for some species by 2050, even as man-made “sprawl zones” create tremendous challenges for other critters and plants.
The DNR can hardly be described as reactionary or left-leaning. The department has a history of granting considerable leeway to property owners. That’s one reason the predictions contained in the draft report can be viewed as alarming.
The report DNR is completing is an update of the state’s 2005 Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. Now its called Georgia’s “State Wildlife Action Plan.” The section on climate change that’s included in the draft report begins with a definition of the term, and goes on to observe:
- “Climate change has become a central and defining wildlife conservation issue since the development of the original 2005 SWAP. An emerging approach to addressing climate change is called climate change adaptation, or preparing for and coping with climate change impacts on fish and wildlife … The impact of climate change reaches beyond state boundaries, exacerbates existing threats to wildlife, and affects each species differently.”
A section titled, “Highest Priority Conservation Actions,” states:
- “The assessment maps indicate where climatically suitable habitat is predicted to remain in 2050, and for the striped newt and flatwoods salamander, no habitat is predicted to remain.
- “Although legally protected under the Clean Water Act, freshwater marshes are still threatened by sea level rise due to climate change. This threat has the potential to affect species found in freshwater marsh ecosystems, primarily butterflies. [The federal government is determining whether to declare Monarch butterflies as an endangered species; Georgia is one of their homes during migration.}
- “Waters along the South Carolina, Georgia, and northeast Florida coast are an important wintering ground and the only known calving ground for this species [right whales]. Climate change may negatively impact forage availability in Northeast U.S. and Canada, and the suitability of wintering habitat in Southeast U.S.
- “Climate change is a threat to Georgia’s aquatic diversity, and habitats are representative of the threats contributing to the global freshwater biodiversity crisis. Species such as brook trout that are restricted to higher elevation, cold water streams may be particularly susceptible to climatic shifts.”
The report is the result of a two-year effort to update the 2005 “Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy.” DRN’s Wildlife Resource Division obtained federal funding to conduct the update.
The purpose of the report is to comply with federal requirements to provide the information necessary to create and promote programs over the next five to 10 years. These programs are intended to, “conserve Georgia’s animals, plants, and natural habitats through proactive measures emphasizing voluntary and incentive-based programs….”
DNR has three meetings scheduled to provide for public comment. Written comments will be accepted. The deadline to respond is July 15. Meetings are scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the following locations:
- July 1: Georgia Wildlife Federation, 11600 Hazelbrand Road, Covington;
- July 7: Go Fish Education Center, just off I-75 (Exit 134), Perry;
- July 8: Susan Shipman Environmental Learning Center, Georgia DNR Coastal Regional Headquarters, One Conservation Way, Brunswick.
Climate change is addressed in a 10-page section of the 248-page report. Climate change is given the same weight as wildlife diseases and energy development. The three issues represent, “emerging issues that impact the status and distribution of species and habitats.”
In addition to global warming the report notes that development is a major factor in the loss of wildlife habitat.
The report’s “Executive Summary” observes that:
- “The changes that are occurring in the Georgia landscape as a result of population growth and increasing development pressures present daunting challenges to those involved in wildlife conservation.”
A section of the report titled, “Land Cover/Land Use Trends,” states:
- “Habitat loss and modification attributed to increases in urban and suburban areas represent the primary threats to wildlife diversity in Georgia. These impacts include stream habitat losses due to construction of water supply reservoirs, habitat fragmentation from construction of roads and utility corridors, and conversion of natural habitats to developed areas.”
Though the predictions are dire, the report isn’t all doom and gloom. Its very purpose is to establish a benchmark that can be used to create reasonable and responsible policies in light of challenges that can be global in nature.
For example, the report notes that the success of the plan depends on the existence of healthy, well-managed forests. Of the state’s nearly 24 million acres of forest, 75 percent is owned by non-industrial private landowners. These land owners are influenced by a host of factors, including tax laws that value forested land on its “highest and best use,” rather than as a forest.
The report stops short of urging that state property tax laws be changed to reduce the tax burden on owners who may not want to sell forested land, or use another program to reduce tax liability, but struggles to pay the tax bill. However, by including the tax issue, the report puts the matter on the table for discussion.